People from all walks of life and from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds represent our friends and neighbors, our colleagues and classmates. In a diverse community and an increasingly small world, relating to and working collaboratively with all people are necessary skills to succeed in today’s workforce. Waubonsee Community College is committed to making diversity, inclusion and equity vital parts of a student’s experience and our college operations.

We are proud to have received the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s 2012 Equity Award for our efforts in promoting college-wide equity and diversity. This award reinforces our goal that all students are welcomed and valued and have equal opportunities to succeed.

Nationwide, community colleges serve 44 percent of all U.S. undergraduates and an even greater percentage of minority undergraduates. When our students succeed, we succeed as a college, as a community and as a nation.

Waubonsee’s commitment to equity began early in the college’s history. Strong programs in sign language and sign language interpreter training drew students with a hearing-impairment from throughout the state and beyond. These students thrived in a mainstream environment before inclusion was the norm, and the programs continue today. Our sign language interpreter training was the first of its kind in the state when it was established in 1975. The program remains on the cutting edge through the use of digital technology as a teaching/learning tool.

Today, as part of Waubonsee’s New Student Orientation, incoming students learn to understand and embrace their own diversity. Here, through an activity we call “forced choices,” our new students gravitate to one of eight characteristics based on a prompt. This quickly shows the diversity of each student and helps formulate self-identity and dispel potential assumptions about his or her future classmates. We’ve found this is a good way to have students make connections and begin their journey at the college.

This diversity activity came out of the work of Waubonsee’s Diversity Leadership Council that was founded in 2008. Led by faculty, staff and students, other projects of this group included coordinating institution-wide employee diversity training and the planting of a Peace Pole on the Sugar Grove Campus as part of an international movement dedicated to peace.

It is important that today’s students understand that cultural barriers and stereotypes are not conducive to a culturally diverse environment. Multiple student groups that focus on issues of diversity have been formed at Waubonsee and the Latinos Unidos student group was recognized as the most active student group of the past year.

Diversity is also present throughout our four campus network. Waubonsee’s health care interpreting, legal interpreting and translation programs empower our bilingual community members to fill rewarding and needed jobs in the workforce. Our Adult Education Department serves a highly diverse student population of local residents with programs such as English as a Second Language (ESL), General Education Development (GED) and Adult Basic Education (ABE). Many students in these programs have immigrated to the United States from all over the world.

Diversity is a strength yet also a challenge of our region. Just as a family experiences growing pains with the addition of new family members, our region grows to welcome and understand new residents. Our strength lies in utilizing the full capacity of knowledge, understanding and skills of each member of our family. Waubonsee strives to be a place where members of many groups can meet as individuals and develop and grow that understanding.